Nonprofits Have a Lot to Be Thankful for in the Wake of the Midterm Elections

When most people think about the recent midterm elections, they think about the candidates who won and lost and the races that are still too close to call. Others look at an even bigger picture. Not only do they pay attention to who will be representing their communities in local, state, and federal government, but they also pay attention to the measures that thousands of voters chimed in on this past election season.

During the 2018 midterm elections, there was no shortage of measures up for a vote on local and state ballots, many of which were supported by nonprofit organizations. From the passage of Amendment 2, which mandates unanimous jury verdicts in Louisiana felony trials, to the approval of a 13-cent Tax Ratification Election to support schools in Dallas, Texas, nonprofit advocates across the United States are giving thanks for the success of their advocacy efforts. They are celebrating big midterm election wins, and it’s entirely within their rights to do so.

501(c)(3) public charities are allowed to support or oppose ballot measures, including initiatives, bond measures, referenda, constitutional amendments, and propositions. Although they are not permitted to chime in on who should be elected to public office, the tax code gives them power to advocate on behalf of measures in a nonpartisan way that does not suggest which candidates people should vote for. This means that if a public charity wants to collect signatures to get a measure placed on the ballot in Florida, or if it wants to endorse a measure in California, it can. For federal tax law purposes, ballot measure advocacy is considered to be a form of direct lobbying that needs to be reported on a nonprofit’s IRS Form 990. States also regulate ballot measure activity (usually through campaign finance laws), and it is important to comply with applicable disclosure and reporting rules as well.

Legal compliance aside, ballot measures can be a fantastic tool for nonprofit organizations that want to create change in their communities. That is precisely what many nonprofits did during the midterm elections. Just a few of the wins worth noting:

  • PASSED: Proposition 2. This measure signals voter approval for Utah patients to receive legal access to medical marijuana.
  • PASSED: Amendments Y & Z. These measures allow independent commissions to set the boundaries of electoral districts in Colorado.
  • PASSED: Proposition A. This measure authorized a $250 million bond for the purchase of land to develop affordable housing in Austin, Texas.
  • PASSED: Amendment 4. This measure restores the voting rights of those who have completed their sentences for felony convictions in Florida.
  • PASSED: Question 2. The passage of this measure is one of the first steps needed to allow voters to register on election day in Maryland.

For more on specific state-level disclosure rules related to ballot measure advocacy, check out our Bolder Advocacy state law resources here.

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